Who hasn’t picked a pebble up whilst strolling the coast of Britain? They look especially inviting lying covered in the shallow water of a rock pool, the wetness showing colour that pales when the salty surface dries. There is something about walking along a beach that is meditative and frees our minds, allowing us to focus on – well, what is at our feet. Just shingle and horizon. Homeo sapiens are hunter-gathers with brains programmed to look for patterns and anomalies within these. For example, to find a juicy berry amongst a thicket and our modern interpretation may be to find the most alluring pebble.
Christopher Stocks suggests many more reasons – historic and contemporary – for this popular activity in “The Book of Pebbles”, a new book published by St. Jude’s and lavishly peppered with artwork by Angie Lewin who traces the routes of her own pebble-picking habits in a foreword to the book. Following chapters examine other reasons for and peaks in the popularity of pebble collecting; from fossil-hunting Victorians to those inspired by Derek Jarman’s “Garden” in Dungerness.
In the back of the book is a handy section on the best beaches to visit for pebble collecting, advice on the legality of the activity and a glossary of commonly found types of stone. ” The Book of Pebbles” is an enjoyable, fairly quick read but one must allow time to linger over Angie’s prints and watercolours whilst fully absorbing the words. Signed copies of the book and limited edition prints will be available at Tinsmiths during Angie’s exhibition here, Prints, Pots and Plants; an exhibition with potter Mark de la Torre, running from 16 March to 29 April 2019. Opening hours Tuesday – Saturday 10am to 5pm.
Tideline Feathers, Wood-Engraving by Angie Lewin
To begin our 2019 exhibition programme we welcome artist-printmaker and illustrator Angie Lewin and potter Mark de la Torre to Tinsmiths for our Spring Exhibition. This is their first joint exhibition; both have shown here in the past and their work has a particular commonality. Both are very interested in and inspired by plant forms and the natural world. Both approach and execute their work with precision – crisp lines, smooth forms, “quiet” compositions that have style but don’t shout too loudly for attention – in other words, these are designs to live long with.
Angie’s fabric designs for St. Jude’s (the company started by Angie and her husband Simon Lewin with a group of artist-printmakers) began as fairly simple motifs, for example, a single seedhead; more recently she has made patterns using several overlapping, repeating elements from her drawings bringing the same delicacy of outline seen in her sketches and prints. The latest design “Clover” combines leaves and flowers in seamless abundance. Angie explains her inspiration as, “Thinking of clover and daisies dotted through a grassy field and the sound of bees evokes memories of warm summer days. The plant’s unmistakable leaves and soft red and white petalled flowers, though small and insignificant, have a graphic quality when studied in detail, and I hope I’ve captured this in my latest fabric for St Jude’s, developed from an original wood engraving of the same name.” We are pleased to show Clover in “action” at Tinsmiths’ with a variety of cushions, lampshades & curtains using the fabric alongside her limited edition linocuts, screenprints and wood-engravings.
For this early Spring event Mark has made one-off stoneware planters and some of his hallmark “doughnut” cacti pots; any of which, being planted as we head into the growing year, will have a very good opportunity to establish. Talking of things settling in for the season, he adds to these the most beautiful bird nesting boxes. A keen and knowledgeable ornithologist, Mark watches the many garden birds busy around his pottery in Herefordshire. A couple of years ago he began to make ceramic nesting boxes for blue tits (primarily, although others fancied them too) and his latest design is intended for one of his favorite summer visitors, Swifts. Coming indoors for a moment, Mark will also be showing a series of one-off stoneware table lamps which, especially when lit, show off his expertise and creativity in texturing the smooth, pressed forms.
As I write this, we are yet to set up the show and until we are ready open the doors can’t precisely predict the effect of pairing these two artists. What we can promise the visitor is that each piece has been carefully considered and expertly undertaken; we hope you’ll come to see the show and look forward to your response.
Today I had my passport photograph taken. I sat in a booth and followed a disembodied voice instructing me to adjust my seat, take care to neither smile or frown and look straight ahead. I waited a few moments for the results. I didn’t recognise the person in the photograph, it wasn’t me – well not all of me.
Petr Horáček is a funny person; through what he says and does but more than anything by the expressions he pulls. Born in Prague – a communist Prague – in 1967 Petr’s career in the arts had an amusing and rather ironic beginning. From the age of 19 he worked at a state advertising and design agency. “It was a joke. In communist Czechoslovakia there was nothing much to advertise or design. But the experience was fun and rather inspiring after all. I met interesting people and it was an interesting time,” Petr explains. His career took a better turn with six years of hard work from dawn to dusk at the Prague Academy of Fine Art where students were expected to learn classical skills before pursuing their personal muse. Whilst there the 1989 revolution (and a student strike) erupted and Petr remembers this as a moment that encouraged creativity and was – in one of his favourite expressions – great fun!
Petr at The Prague Academy of Fine Arts around 1989, unknown photographer.
In 1994, Petr moved to England, to marry, become dad and begin writing and illustrating children’s books and this is where we go back to the importance of expressions. Petr has always concentrated on books for very young children, mostly those just beginning to recognise letters and yet to learn to read. For this age group the expression on a face is very important to understanding the world and, in Petr’s case, for the understanding of the story. More than this, Petr has a particular talent in conveying meaning through the expressions of the characters he imagines and draws. How can he make a goose look excited, hopeful, startled, relieved, boastful? It seems easily.
Photographs above by Anthony Pearson: dankspangle.com, flickr.com/photos/dank_spangle
All of his many books have an animal as a central character and all have a wide repertoire of expressions. I asked Petr how he worked with expression. “I often ‘think in pictures’ and I see the character in my head, but the truth is, that when I’m drawing a certain character I shrug my shoulders and I pull funny faces. I think it’s a common thing to do. Lots of us pull faces and stick out our tongue when concentrating and drawing. I also know a couple of illustrators who use a mirror to get the right expression”, he explained and I’d love to see more of those expressions – perhaps at our summer event?
Above: Story books by Petr Horáček
Do come and meet Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies in Ledbury when they read and draw from their new book “A First Book of Animals” (published by Walker Books). We will hold this event in the beautiful garden of Abbots Lodge Church Street at 10.30am, 30th June 2018 and accompanied children are positively encouraged.
A solo exhibition of paintings and drawings by Petr Horáček opens 1st June 2019 at Tinsmiths, Ledbury. Please join our mailing list if you would like an invitation.
Petr Horáček is one of a shortlist of seven for this year’s Kate Greenaway Award for children’s book illustration – the only such prize for illustration. We congratulate him for getting this far and keep our finger’s crossed for the final decision in mid June.
Above: Board books by Petr Horáček
Exactly two hundred years ago, Philip Clissett was born in Birtsmorton, Worcestershire, into a family of chairmakers. He was to become, arguably, the best known of all English rural chairmakers because of his association with the Arts & Crafts Movement. He was born in 1817 during Jane Austen’s lifetime, and lived long enough to take a ride in a motor car, and to see aeroplanes fly. Those who knew him remembered his rosy face, and that he said “thee” and “thou” in the old way. When the Arts & Crafts architect and designer Alfred Powell visited him in 1903, he felt Clissett gave him “quite a glimpse of what the old aristocratic poor used to be”. The drawing of Clissett was published in 1898 in a prestigious arts journal, and captures something of what Powell expressed in words.
Philip moved to Bosbury, near Ledbury in Herefordshire, in the early 1840s, and there he plied his trade in rural obscurity. His chairs were made from green ash on a pole lathe and shave horse, and he produced a wide range in the local style, with both the distinctive West Midlands board seat and with rush seats. There were two other chairmakers in Bosbury, and several others in nearby Ledbury. But from about 1860 onwards, vernacular chairmaking of this kind declined dramatically because of the upsurge in factory-made seating so that, by the 1880s, Philip was the only chairmaker left in the area.
Board-Seated Chair by Philip Clissett, photo: Alan Meikle
Then, in 1886, the Bosbury chairmaker was “discovered” by the Scottish architect James MacLaren who was working on a project in Ledbury, Herefordshire. While out for a walk, he came across what his companion later called “a real survival of village industry”, Philip Clissett’s workshop. MacLaren asked Clissett to make him some chairs, having made some drawings that were “improving a little upon his (Clissett’s) designs, but perfectly simple and in the old spirit”.
A rush-seated ladderback chair by Philip Clissett. photo: Alan Meikle
A couple of years later, the recently-formed Art Workers Guild was looking for chairs to furnish its meeting room, and MacLaren (an early member) appears to have introduced Clissett’s new ladderback chair, for it is these we see in the earliest photographs of the Guild’s meeting room in Barnard’s Inn (1892). Over a period, the Guild bought many of these chairs, and they are still used in their Meeting Hall in Queens Square to this day. Many members of the Guild, and others interested in the Arts & Crafts style, bought chairs from Clissett, and they were used extensively by various Arts & Crafts architects, especially by Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, and even (it seems) by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Philip Clissett was, essentially, a living embodiment of the values of the Arts & Crafts Movement; a time-served craftsman, happy in his work making honest furniture from basic materials with simple tools.
Numerous Clissett Ladderback Chairs at the Art Workers Guild photo: Toothpicnation
The sight of the chairs at the Art Workers Guild inspired the young Ernest Gimson to visit Clissett in 1890, and to spend a few weeks at Bosbury learning how they were made. This experience prompted his own turned chair designs and, from about 1903 until the First World War, he developed a range of rush-seated chairs that were made for him by Edward Gardiner. Although Gardiner abandoned his workshop at the outbreak of war in 1914, he began making Gimson’s designs again, and included a close copy of Clissett’s ladderback chair in the range on offer. This model continues to be made today by Lawrence Neal, the son of Gardiner’s apprentice. It’s still known as “The Clissett”.
Philip Clissett died in 1913 at the age of 96. His grandsons, who had continued the business once Philip was too infirm (he is reputed to have made chairs into his nineties), carried on until the Great War put an end to chairmaking in Bosbury. They never made chairs again. Philip’s interaction with the Arts & Crafts Movement, and the continued popularity of his ladderback chairs, ensure he is remembered to this day. Sadly, James MacLaren, the designer who made it all possible, is rarely acknowledged as his iconic chair design is frequently, and mistakenly, credited to Ernest Gimson. Together, they have inspired a whole new generation of chairmakers.
Philip Clissett in his Stanley Hill workshop. Photo: Tilley Photography
Tinsmiths would like to thanks Terry Rowell for writing this post for Tinsmiths Cuttings. More details about Philip Clissett, and the wide variety of chairs he made, can be found on his website which is devoted to the history of Philip Clissett
A sweet, hay-like smell hits you as chair-maker, Lawrence Neal, answers his door. The door opens in to what appears once to have been Victorian Schoolroom, but was in fact the village co-op store. Neville Neal, Lawrence’s father moved his furniture workshop to this large, light room in 1960.
A glance around identifies the parts – parts of chairs carefully grouped, tools equally. Handsome, solid machinery to cut and shape and the source of that sweet smell. As Lawrence’s recently lit wood stove cranks up the heat the bundles of rushes stacked in a corner warm. “It’s not my favourite job, but just once a year I pull on my waders and harvest the rushes from the Avon”, Lawrence tells me.
To understand how Lawrence arrived at his chair-making career we need to take a few steps back in time to the early nineteenth century: then country chair-makers (usually called bodgers) were common. Philip Clissett (b.1817) was one of the longest lived of these. In 1890 architect, furniture designer Ernest Gimson took lessons from Clissett and over the next thirty years this experience influenced his designs. Gimson became an important part of the Arts and Crafts movement and established a furniture business in Gloucestershire.
Gimson encouraged a young, local man to take up chair-making. Edward Gardiner worked with Gimson and, after the First World War, set up a workshop in Priors Marston, Warwickshire. Neville Neal, Lawrence’s father, became his apprentice in 1939 and took over the business after Gardiner’s death essentially making chairs which can be traced back to Clissett. Here we are in 1966 with a busy chair-making business run by father with son, Lawrence, as apprentice. As the maker at the top of a “family tree” of chairmakers, I asked Lawrence whether any other career had been in the frame, “Not really, it was just assumed. I had been in and out of the workshop throughout my youth and when I reached 15 years it seemed natural to learn more”.
Neville Neal died in 2000 & Lawrence has worked on his own from then on, making spindle and ladderback chairs with rush seats. Now, at close to retirement age, Lawrence really doesn’t know what else he would do with his time “There’s only so many times you can re-decorate the house”, he laughs.
Neville Neal was fortunate to have a child disposed to precision and constancy. Lawrence’s working life has a rhythm and regularity that few experience – he selects a year’s supply oak and ash and harvests enough rush to complete the seats for the 120 chairs he makes annually. His machine tools are circular saw and lathe, his hand tools include cleaver, axe, chisel, draw knife, clamp and spokeshave. In addition he bends wood using something akin to a burco boiler.
Glancing at the many patterns for chair parts hanging on the workshop wall, Lawrence points out several that he believes began life in Gimson’s furniture workshop. “The designs haven’t really changed, I still make the chairs made by Clissett, Gimson, Gardiner and my Father.” Once you familiarise yourself with these designs you realise why the designs are so constant. The chairs are honest and so well worked out – just the right structure for their weight and purpose – nothing can be added or taken away to any advantage in function or look.
Working from the Wood, an exhibition celebrating the bi-centenary of the birth of Philip Clissett runs from 29th June to 30 July 2017 at Tinsmiths, Ledbury. It features Lawrence Neal’s chairs. Other exhibitors, also influenced by Philip Clissett, will be Koji Katsuragi, Sebastian Cox, Mike Abbott, Gudrun Leitz and Neil Taylor. Please contact [email protected] with your name and postal address if you would like to be sent an invitation to the opening. Mike Abbott will be giving a talk on Philip Clissett on Saturday, 15th July at 4pm at The Burgage Hall, Ledbury. Tickets will be made available at www.tinsmiths.co.uk from 1st June 2017.
There is something very inspiring about passion. In this case, I mean passion for one’s work. Sunny visited us with samples of his textile designs a few month’s ago and we were struck by his commitment, enthusiasm and drive. His designs are dramatic, bold and bright, they leap out and grab you. It is really good to have something that shakes us, something quite different and a bit daring for Tinsmiths.
“Tinsmiths feels to be very much at the heart of the bustling community and it has been a real joy to begin working with them this year. I have particularly enjoyed collaborating with owner Phoebe Clive on unique colour combinations for the store; I have really appreciated her advice, support and belief in me as a new designer and I am very much looking forward to my show at Tinsmiths next summer.” says Sunny, who moved to Ledbury, with his young family, this spring (2013). “I have been so surprised by the vibrancy of this small market town” remarks Sunny, whose energy and interest can only add to the life of the town.
After training at the Royal College of Art, graduating with an MA in Printed Textile Design, Sunny Todd worked as a freelance designer in London for various companies including Topshop, Topman, Levis, River Island and Urban Outfitters, predominantly customising garments with Silk Screen prints.
Passionate about producing designs that are clean, bold and graphic, Sunny intuitively and obsessively draws with pen, scissors and scalpel to create repeats that are confident, dynamic and full of movement. Scale is explored, reducing and exaggerating to experiment with composition and the impact of the repeat.
All his designs are cut by hand which gives the art work beautiful irregularities, and so when fabrics are digitally printed by British company Smarts they retain the hand printed aesthetic. Sunny gives a good deal of thought to how his textiles will be used and his latest wash bags and shoulder bags are good examples of this – his large shoulder bags should be considered part of one’s apparel, not merely a necessity.
Sunny’s show at Tinsmiths runs from 6th September to 4th October, 2014 and there will be an opportunity to meet and talk to Sunny about his work at the opening on the evening of Friday, 5th September. If you would like to receive an invitation, please e-mail [email protected] with your details.